Bullpen shines as Phils rally to beat Padres in 13

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Bullpen shines as Phils rally to beat Padres in 13

BOX SCORE

SAN DIEGO – Two nights after one of their worst losses of the season, the Phillies rallied for one of their most improbable wins of the season Wednesday night.

Improbable because a cast of relievers who had awful ERAs at Triple A helped the bullpen pitch seven -- seven -- scoreless innings.

Improbable because struggling Delmon Young had the game’s most important hit and swung the bat like the right-handed-hitting run producer the Phillies expected but have yet to see.

Improbable because the Phillies scored two runs in the top of the 13th inning without a hit leading up to those runs.

“That’s why you keep playing,” manager Charlie Manuel said after his team rallied for a 7-5 win over the San Diego Padres long after most of the folks back home in Philadelphia had gone to bed (see Instant Replay).

The game lasted four hours, 10 minutes.

Cole Hamels had another poor outing and was on his way to becoming the first pitcher in team history to lose 12 games before July when Young tied the game at 5-5 with a two-out, two-run homer in the eighth inning. Young also doubled and scored a run earlier in the game. His performance suggested that he might have eavesdropped on Manuel before the game when the manager spoke about it being time for Young to start producing.

“He needs to get going,” Manuel said before the game.

Hamels allowed five extra-base hits in squandering an early lead for the second game in a row.

“Another poor performance,” Hamels said. “Luckily the team picked me up.”

He has a 4.58 ERA in 17 starts.

The Phils will have more patience with Hamels than Young. They have to.

“How can I get Hamels right?” Manuel said after the game. “Keep pitching him and one of these days it will break for him.”

The Phillies only had two hits after Young’s home run in the eighth. They managed to stay in the game with some stunningly good bullpen work that included:

Two scoreless innings from J.C. Ramirez, who joined the team last week after recording a 6.75 ERA at Triple A.

Two scoreless innings from Phillippe Aumont, just back to the majors after recording a 6.75 ERA at Triple A.

Jake Diekman (5.70 at Triple A) and Joe Savery (4.03 at Triple A) each pitched a scoreless inning before Jonathan Papelbon, who blew the save in Monday night’s 10-inning loss, rebounded with his 15th save. Savery got the win.

“The bullpen held ‘em,” Manuel said. “They did a tremendous job.”

The performance of the young relievers came one day after Mike Adams learned he was out for the season with a shoulder injury and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said he didn’t expect to make any major additions to the bullpen, that he was eager to see what the kids could do.

The kids were all right Wednesday night.

Manuel suggested the Phils had something else going for them in this game: A little fight.

“You’d be surprised what you can do when you really want to play,” Manuel said. “That’s what it’s all about. I’ve always said that takes you a long way. It might not take you to the Promised Land but you can play a lot better and you can have a lot more fun when you win games.”

Manuel was asked whether his team lacked that attitude on some nights.

“I think baseball in general is kind of like that,” he said. “Both leagues. That’s what I think. Don’t blame my team.”

The Phillies’ resiliency showed up on a few plays. Kevin Frandsen had an important pinch-hit RBI single with two outs in the seventh inning. It came after a dropped foul pop up gave him new life and cut the Padres’ lead to 5-3.

Young’s game-tying homer, preceded by a two-out, hustle double by Domonic Brown, was another example. So were the Phils’ at-bats in the decisive 13th inning. Chase Utley was hit by a pitch, Brown drew a two-out walk and Ben Revere, despite not getting a hit, worked an eight-pitch at-bat and put the ball in play. Second baseman Logan Forsythe booted the ball and Utley alertly scampered home. Forsythe threw wildly to the plate for a second error and the Phils had a second unearned run.

“Great at-bat by Ben,” Manuel said. “He battled. Fouled off a lot of tough curveballs. Got it done.”

And so did the Phillies.

They ended up taking two of three from the Padres and are 38-41, seven games back in the NL East, as they head to Los Angeles for four games with the Dodgers, who have won five in a row.

Pete Mackanin hints that Jeremy Hellickson will be Phillies’ opening-day starter

Pete Mackanin hints that Jeremy Hellickson will be Phillies’ opening-day starter

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies manager Pete Mackanin on Monday said he was not ready to name an opening day starter “because anything can happen in the spring.”

But Mackanin dropped a strong hint that veteran Jeremy Hellickson will get the nod for the second straight year when the Phillies open the season in Cincinnati on April 3.

“He’s probably got the best chance to be our opening-day starter,” Mackanin said after Monday’s workout. “I’m not going to definitely announce it because anything can happen in the spring. He was last year. I’m not making the announcement that he will be, but there’s a good chance he might be.”

Jerad Eickhoff, who led the Phillies' starting staff in innings (197⅓) and ERA (3.65) last season, is another candidate for the start, but it sounds as if he will slot in behind Hellickson.

On paper, the Phillies’ opening week rotation — barring something unforeseen — could be Hellickson, Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola. Of course, as Mackanin said, “anything can happen in the spring,” so all of this is early-camp guess work.

Hellickson, who turns 30 on April 8, went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts for the Phillies last season. He returned when the club extended him a $17.2 million qualifying offer for 2017. Hellickson accepted the Phillies’ one-year offer after considering free agency.

“He feels great,” Mackanin said. “He’s in a great frame of mind. I’m sure he would like to have gotten a five-year, $100 million contract from someone, but he’s real happy to be here and we’re happy to have him.”

Eflin takes the mound
Right-hander Zach Eflin returned to a bullpen mound Monday after being slowed last week by a bout of knee inflammation. He threw 40 pitches and reported no problems.

Eflin had double knee surgery in the fall so the Phils will take it slow with him. He projects to be in the Triple A rotation.

Looking good
Phillies pitchers continued to throw “live” batting practice Monday. Mackanin roamed four fields and got a look at all the arms. He liked what he saw of Pat Neshek, the submarine right-handed reliever that the Phils acquired from Houston in an offseason trade.

“I was watching Neshek throw live BP,” Mackanin said. “Not only does he have good movement on his fastball and a real nice sharp-breaking slider, but he threw some outrageous changeups that seemed to stop halfway to the plate. So I’m looking forward to seeing him compete in games.”

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The dew on the infield grass had barely dried when Andrew Knapp was marched out to the firing squad at Phillies camp early Sunday morning.
 
He took his position at first base and looked across the diamond where Phillies instructors Doug Mansolino, Chris Truby and Larry Bowa were lined up at third base, shortstop and second base, respectively. Armed with fungo bats and a dozen baseballs each, the trio of sharpshooters proceeded to smash bullet one- and two-hoppers at Knapp, who was tasked with pulling them out of the dirt to complete the putout.
 
“Good job,” shouted Bowa, a tough grader when it comes to infield work, as Knapp finished up the hellacious early-morning drill.
 
Knapp is a catcher by trade, but he will continue these intense individual sessions at first base throughout the spring — in addition to his regular defensive work behind the plate.
 
A 25-year-old switch-hitter, Knapp was the Phillies’ second-round selection in the 2013 draft. He’s getting a lot of attention in this camp because he has a shot to make the club as a reserve player. The Phils are in need of a backup catcher and a backup first baseman and Knapp, in big-league camp for the second time, is trying to show he can handle both assignments in one package.
 
“Last year it was more of a happy-to-be-here thing,” he said. “I was just trying to pick as many brains as I could and take in as much knowledge as I could.
 
“But this year it’s more of a let’s-go-win-a-job kind of deal.”
 
General manager Matt Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin first floated the idea of carrying Knapp as a two-position reserve at the winter meetings.
 
Of course, it came with a lot of qualifiers. Knapp is still considered a developing player and team decision-makers would have to consider what impact a reserve role would have on his development. Also, the prototypical backup catcher in the majors is a plus defender who has experience handling a big-league pitching staff. Knapp has never played in the majors and his defense is considered a work in progress. Later in the winter, the Phillies signed two big-league veteran catchers (Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan) to minor-league deals and they are very much in the mix for the job.
 
“I kind of understand there’s a definite value in having a veteran guy as a backup, but I think I can do the job on the field,” Knapp said.
 
A potential separator for Knapp could be his bat and his versatility if he can continue to develop it. He is not a novice at first base. He played there as a sophomore at the University of California. Knapp also has this going for him: He’s on the 40-man roster and with so many young prospects on it and the probable need to add an outfielder like Chris Coghlan later in camp, that could work in Knapp’s favor.
 
Another factor that could affect Knapp’s chances: The Phillies’ development blueprint calls for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro to get the bulk of the playing time at first base and catcher, respectively, at Triple A.
 
“You’d like to see him get 500 at-bats, but it’s not a perfect world,” Bowa said. “Our Triple A team is loaded. He might find himself in the same role at Triple A. if that’s the case, it might be best if he came here if he swings the bat like he can and he can provide versatility.
 
“A guy like him can give you some options and flexibility. When you face the Mets and they have three stud right-handers throwing 95 (mph), it might be nice to have a guy like that to give (first baseman) Tommy Joseph a blow.”
 
Knapp had a brilliant season with the bat at Double A in 2015. He hit .360 with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in 55 games, earning him the franchise’s Paul Owens Award as minor-league player of the year.
 
Knapp tapered off at Triple A last season. He hit .266 with eight homers, 46 RBIs and a .719 OPS over a full season. Knapp’s day last summer typically started with defensive work at 1:30 in the afternoon.
 
“I would get my hitting in, but I don’t think there was as much of a focus on it as there was the year before,” he said. “I do think last year I took a real step forward defensively, especially in the second half of the year. I kind of had a tough first half, but the second half I really honed in on the defensive part, blocking and throwing mostly, just kind of keeping everything in front and shutting down the running game.”

A lot of eyes will be on Knapp when the exhibition games start next week.
 
“We need to find out if he’s capable of doing it,” Mackanin said. “Catching is a defensive-oriented position. We need good defense. We need good game-calling, a catcher who can handle pitchers, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at from a guy like Knapp as well as the other guys. We’re going to take a good, long look at that.
 
“He’s definitely in the mix. I want to play him a lot to see him. We all want to see what he can do offensively and defensively. From what I’ve been told he’s shown a lot of improvement and we’re going to look for that. We’re looking for the 25 best men. There’s a good chance he might be one of them.”

Knapp is determined to show that he is.
 
“It’s open for someone to go take it and I want to be that guy,” he said.